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Thursday, 18 December 2008

Asif Ali Zardari: The people's president

Thursday, December 18, 2008
Waqar Mehdi

Much is being said and written about President Asif Ali Zardari and the PPP coming into power for the third time in the wake of the sympathy vote after the Shahadat of Mohtarama Benazir Bhutto. Some people with specific political views or interests even express astonishment at Zardari becoming head of state. But this is something that ought to be evaluated objectively, without preconceived biases. The stress should be on applying the democratic yardsticks.

The procedure for the election of Zardari as president was strictly in accordance with the best democratic standards practiced in the contemporary world. He was elected by a heavy majority vote cast by the elected representatives of the people in both Houses of the Parliament and in the four provincial assemblies. Even his arch-rivals endorsed the transparency of these elections which brought Zardari to the Aiwan-e-Sadr, with those voting for him hailing from almost all the political parties worth the name.

The situation can be likened to the unanimous adoption of the 1973 Constitution with the motivational efforts of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Democracies don't bar newcomers from entering the political field. Someone with a political background and closely connected with politicians of high stature can't be declared a novice who doesn't qualify for any top governmental slot by dint of effort. And politicking and winning over the confidence of parliamentarians from one's own party or from other parties is a purely democratic endeavour.

No political aspirant can win a sympathy vote to the extent the Pakistan People's Party did, unless he or she is capable of mustering mass public support.

It is wrong to assume that Zardari's credentials did not match the requirements of merit for the chairmanship of Pakistan's largest party and the presidency. Any party whose leadership has rendered so many sacrifices, including the martyrdom of its top leaders, has every moral authority to vote the spouse of its beloved chairperson into power. The confidence and trust of the majority of PPP office-bearers enjoyed by Asif Ali Zardari is equivalent to the vote and confidence of the majority of the people of Pakistan, who made the PPP the single largest majority party. Add to this the vote of trust cast in favour of Zardari by parties including some old rivals such as the ANP, the JUI-F and the MQM, which could not be susceptible to influence, tricks or false commitments or promises.

It is also wrong that the elected government in Islamabad is not functioning effectively, that its decisions are made elsewhere, with the Prime Minister and his cabinet bypassed. Zardari does enjoy immense clout in PPP affairs, but that doesn't not mean that Yusuf Raza Gillani's government is not performing properly. Instead, the situation at present has become more ideal with active collaboration between an effective Aiwan-e-Sadr and an ever-willing government. It is a different thing that the present mess (owing to many unavoidable, extraneous factors) is more than any challenge or threat.

The critics' viewpoint that "Zardari lacks calibre" is leading to the degradation of Pakistan in the comity of nations. A democracy is run by people's representatives, not by professors and PhDs. Governments hire the services of learned men to assist in policymaking.

Both these categories have their exclusive domains. Decisions are made not by the learned ones, but by people's representatives, whose knowledge in techniques and thinking or analysis might be more limited but whose vision is guided by the common man's aspirations. The people's elected government and the President should be given a fair chance to prove their mettle, at least for the mandated five years in office.

The writer is an office-bearer of the PPP

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